When long-term Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election, a pair of unscrupulous power brokers plots to put up a rival candidate and gain influence over their North Carolina district. Their man: naive Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), director of the local Tourism Center.
At first, Marty appears to be the unlikeliest possible choice but, with the help of his new benefactors' support and a cutthroat campaign manager, he soon becomes a contender who gives the charismatic Cam plenty to worry about.
As Election Day closes in, the two are locked in a dead heat, with insults quickly escalating to injury until all they care about is burying each other. It's a mud-slinging, back-stabbing, home-wrecking comedy from "Meet the Parents" director Jay Roach that takes today's political circus to its logical next level. Because, even if you believe campaign ethics have hit rock bottom...there's still room to dig a whole lot deeper.
According to Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), "America, Jesus, and Freedom" are what its all about. He just as easily admits in close confidence to his Campaign Manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) that he has no idea what he is talking about, but its what the people of his Congressional District like to hear. Cam Brady is not a Congressman of high morality or one eager to do right by the people he represents. His latest antic exemplifies this fact, "the phone call" to his mistress that he unexpectedly leaves on a fine Christian family's home answering machine showcasing all of the ways Cam Brady is a reproachable man, and not a Congressman on the rise or one to respect given his tendencies toward vulgarity. The "phone call" also sets the tone for the rest of film, where the comedy is going to be unseemly and derogatory towards political candidates. To be clear, the "phone call" is hilarious, and things only improve the more improper they become in The Campaign.
Cam's drop in popularity due to the scandal of "the phone call" forces two high-profile political backers from big business, Wade (Dan Aykroyd) and Glenn (John Lithgow) Motch, to find a new Candidate for the upcoming election that they can control. The Motch brothers have their eyes set on bringing Chinese factory jobs to the small district in North Carolina where Cam Brady dwells and changing minimum wage policies at the same time. The evilness of capitalism and the power to corrupt with money and influence are at the core of The Campaign, once you push aside the outright desire to make the viewer laugh continuously throughout the movie. Cam has run unopposed for his five terms in office, and now he has competition from the town weirdo who is also son to a very influential businessman, Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis). The Motch brothers are betting on Marty to win, with the help of ruthless Campaign Manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott). Cam is fighting to keep his position, while cavorting with his mistress, pretending to love his power-hungry wife, and disastrously losing his temper on more than one occasion. A political candidate is meant to kiss babies, not punch them in the face. As for Marty, he is still trying to understand why his Pug's are considered anti-american just because they originate from China. The Campaign is full of wily characters with one sole purpose: to bring down the other guy by any means necessary. Nothing is off limits in the respective campaigns, and nothing will ever be the same in this small North Carolina town.
The success of The Campaign is solely in the hands of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis playing at their respective parts with great comedic success. They manage more than enough laughs, from the dialogue, to the improv, to the slapstick moments. The plot of The Campaign is weak, and full of missed opportunities if in fact the intention was to make a statement about politics. The Campaign only really manages to comment on the absurdity of the campaign process and uses every resource available from historical political guffaws to the obvious crossing the line about what is acceptable behavior for a politician. Some of the more enjoyable moments occur in the background, where a remark, gesture, or action by a character is done as second nature, and not with the intention readily apparent as is common with both Ferrell and Galifianakis' styles of comedy. The Campaign is an outrageous and more times than not laugh-out-loud movie. Its attempts at a real story with the Motch brothers 'China in the United States' dreams are easily discarded early on to make way for the foolery between Cam and Marty; only to pop back up again at the end in order to save the movie from not having any form of a soul. This is one campaign where there is not a better man for the job, and watching Cam and Marty prove this point is incredibly entertaining.
A highly popular trade magazine that covers Hollywood, and is well-known for its reviews of mainstream films, refers to the comedy in The Campaign as being of "bad taste." Well, if bad taste equates to scene after scene of laughter that takes political candidacy hijinks to a level of hilarity then, yes, The Campaign is full of "bad taste." Having it any other way would be failing to succeed at what The Campaign is doing, making fun of politics at the lowest level. The Campaign is not a high-art satire, full of strong statements about the current conditions of political campaigns. It's a comedy starring Will Ferrell (Anchorman), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), and Jason Sudeikis ("Saturday Night Live"), directed by Jay Roach (Meet The Parents), from a screenplay by "Eastbound and Down" writers Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy (who also co-wrote Ferrell's The Other Guys). The placement of all of these creatives together in one film will not equal intelligent humor; it will offer a host of inappropriateness, which is exactly what we have come to expect from all involved.
The Campaign is one large dueling match of comedic antics. Farrell's Cam Brady vs. Galifianakis' Huggins makes for a battle of morons on screen, with the additional help of Sudeikis' Mitch as Brady's Campaign Manager, and the entire rest of the cast stealing a scene here and there as they please. Huggins children provide enough shocking revelations in one scene alone to keep you laughing days later as you recall them; kid's do in fact say the darndest things. The one-liners spew out one after the other from Huggins and Brady, sometimes said with the utmost simplicity. For example, Huggins referring to "can't" as the "real C word." Or through direct reference of a character, as with Huggins father's Asian Housekeeper Mrs. Yao (Karen Maruyama) who is paid an extra fifty dollars a week to talk like a Black Maid from Gone With The Wind. Maruyama's depiction, and imitation of said stereotypical maid, is wrong on every level--just try to not break out in uncontrollable laughter every time she appears.
The Campaign's jokes, antics, and the like can only be ruined by revealing them outright. It can be acknowledged that yes, The Campaign is full of lewd, foul, gone-to-far, and more than willing to go farther, politically incorrect humor. It makes fun of everything it possibly can, including insourcing, a term that one must witness the definition defined to fully grasp the hilarity behind it. Taking a trip to Rainbow Land is unforgettable, as is the use of political commercials to gain points in the polls. These are not your usual advertisements, but if they were campaign time would be a great deal more fun to watch television during. There will be moments that refer back to real events in political history, but they are not used to garner debate or analysis. They exist because they are funny, and the pairing of Farrell and Galifianakis could not be better to riff off of one another during them. The Candidate is a sure guarantee if you are looking to laugh, and can accept that this is not a movie that's going to teach you anything about politics through humor.
August 10, 2012